This week saw the biggest changes to the welfare system since its introduction. The concept behind “the welfare state” is that government plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the economic and well-being of its citizens. It is based on the principles of equality of opportunity,equitable distribution of wealth and public responsibility for those unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions of a good life. The welfare state is one of the hallmarks of a civilised society and the whole concept is being undermined by misleading rhetoric we hear from the government. We keep hearing this contrast between “strivers” and “shirkers” the tale of the closed blinds of neighbours in bed all day while shift workers head of to work. The truth is somewhat different.
5 million people or one in six economically active people have claimed jobseeker’s allowance at least once in the last two years showing that people are moving in and out of work (and the government wants to make it easier to sack people) There has been a 20% increase in the working poor with one in five woman and one in seven men earning less than £7 per hour this is leading to the increase in child poverty with more and more children living in poverty in a working household.
The governments own figures from their impact assessment has shown that the 1% benefit up-rating will hit the poorest families the hardest pushing a further 200,000 children into poverty.
With a lot of the changes that are coming in it is the stacking effect that will have the impact on the poorest being hit by multiple cuts at the same time. The headline grabbing cut is of course “The Bedroom Tax” an ill thought and badly implemented policy that will effect hundreds of thousands around the country and hundreds in my ward for no real gain or benefit. The claim by the government is it will save money and free up housing stock but if people where able to move and stop under occupying they would not be paying any penalty and so there would be no saving, That of course would be based on the assumption that there are places available for them to downgrade when the reality is there is not enough property and some peoples circumstance mean they will not be able to downgrade. Of course I can’t mention the “Bedroom Tax” without mentioning Tory chairman Grant Shapps who tried to justify the changes by using his own circumstance and his own children as a comparison saying “my boys share a room” millionaire former housing minister Mr Shapps earns £66k has three children and lives in a four bedroom house which he chooses to use one of the rooms as a study so his boys share though his choice.
It has been suggested by some that the “Bedroom Tax” is somehow a balancing of the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) that already exists in the private sector. But a look at the difference in implementation shows this is not the case. when LHA was introduced in 2008 it was for new claimants it did not affect existing claimants only if there was a change in address or break in claim it did not affect claims where additional rooms were being used because of care,support or supervision provided by certain exemptions of not for profit landlords, also if the tenancies is Registered with social landlords.
Another difference is that a private tenant can benefit by negotiating a lower rent and reduce any shortfall,Where as for someone in social housing facing a 14% cut so even if they could negotiate a reduced figure it would not help.
So as if that was not enough on black monday we also saw an assault on access to justice for the most vulnerable as legal aid saw a cut from £22m to £3m. The Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act will remove legal aid in most cases including those with benefit appeals or cases to do with benefits. So at a time when it is most needed the vulnerable have seen this snatched away.